Edwin Duarte Jr., a former U.S. Army soldier who plans to continue his education at The University of Texas at El Paso in fall 2021, was named a Student of the Year award recipient by the American Council on Education (ACE), a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents most of the nation’s institutions of higher education. | Photos courtesy UTEP

Ex-GI earns ACE National Student of the Year Honor

As an air assault instructor stationed at Fort Bliss, former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Edwin Duarte Jr. occasionally participated in the basketball games at The University of Texas at El Paso’s Don Haskins Center.

The Southern California native was one of the soldiers who rappelled from the Haskins Center’s rafters to throw T-shirts to the crowd.

Medically discharged from the Army after nearly 12 years, he returned to his hometown of Corona and enrolled at nearby Norco College where he earned an associate degree in history in 2020. His goal was to become a high school history teacher and athletics coach.

He applied to UTEP to continue his studies and the University accepted him. The married father of three moved his family to El Paso, but soon after the COVID-19 pandemic took root in the United States and altered his academic plans.

In the meantime, an elementary school at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, hired Duarte’s wife and the family moved to Clarksville, Tennessee. A local bank employed the former soldier who took online courses through Norco College and earned a second associate degree in political science.

Duarte, who plans to continue his education at UTEP in fall 2021, shared his personal story with the American Council on Education (ACE), a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents most of the nation’s institutions of higher education, and it selected him as one of its two 2020 Students of the Year. The other was St. Nicholas Burrus, a graduate of the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

The student of the year honor goes to individuals who have benefited academically or professionally from the use of ACE credit recommendations for workforce or military training. In Duarte’s case, he received 16 ACE-recommended credits based on his military training and experience.

According to ACE, Student of the Year recipients must show how they have produced exceptional achievements in their community or workplace as they successfully balance career, family and education. ACE announced its selections in late May 2021.

“Now that our beautiful campus is re-opening, I am excited to actually go to class” at UTEP, said Duarte, a senior history major. “I have never actually been in a classroom on campus.”

The honor came with a $1,000 cash prize. The money will help fund the completion of his bachelor’s degree, which he expects in spring 2022. After that, he plans to return to Clarksville where he hopes to get a job with an area high school.

Louis Soares, ACE’s chief learning and innovation officer, lauded Duarte and Burrus for their service to family, community and country.

“Their perseverance exemplifies the qualities we seek in ACE’s Student of the Year,” Soares said in an ACE announcement. “Their commitment to education, desire to earn a degree and determination to set high goals should be an inspiration to post-traditional students everywhere.”

Click here to watch the ACE video with Duarte.

Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications